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DFA Press Release: Philippine Consulate General, New York Hosts Forum for Datu Paglas Town Town as Model for Peace and Economic Development in ARMM

Philippine Consul General in New York Cecilia B. Rebong reported to the Department of Foreign Affairs that the Consulate hosted a forum entitled “Datu Paglas Town: A Model for Peace and Development in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, Philippines,” featuring Datu Ibrahim “Toto” Pendatun Paglas III – Datu Paglas, himself – the man responsible for transforming Datu Paglas town from a war-torn village into a bustling economic zone, as guest speaker.

During the presentation, Datu Paglas shared his personal advocacy for peace and development in Datu Paglas town, which was created and named after his family by the late President Ferdinand Marcos. He said that the town was once considered a “no man’s land,” being the scene of violent clashes between government soldiers and Muslim rebels, unresolved political killings, and numerous kidnappings. He was then the Mayor of the town.

Datu Paglas explained that in the 1990s, his father and three brothers were felled by assassins’ bullets. Instead of taking revenge, he took a different route and focused his attention on improving the lives of the people in the area. He challenged local warlords to support him, to bring economic development, education, better health services and a better life for the people. In 1996, he started negotiating with investors to establish a banana plantation in Paglas.

His perseverance paid off as today, Datu Paglas town is the site of a bustling banana plantation (La Fruteria, Inc.) with more than 2,000 workers about 90% of whom were former members or sympathizers of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It is a highly unusual business venture that brought together Italian and Saudi traders, Israeli farming experts, Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International Inc. and top Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders. Currently, La Frutera, Inc. is the largest foreign investment project in the Philippines’ Muslim autonomous region. Its banana produce is in heavy demand in Japan, China and the Middle East.

Datu Paglas added that more than just a successful business venture, however, La Frutera company has given the local community a stake in peace. He said that former guerillas or military combatants no longer sleep under the stars. They now speak with a sense of pride about being able to send their children to school.

Once a “no man’s land,” Datu Paglas Town is a now developing area with a mini-mall, a rural bank, a trucking, security and gas station companies, and another foreign investor – this time, a Korean-financed plastics plant.

Datu Paglas said that if there were lessons to be learned from his experience, these would be the following:

  1. La Frutera succeeded because crime and violence were cracked down, allowing investments to sink in;
  2. It is incumbent upon all of us to help improve the lives of others – whether in community development, diplomacy, or business; whether one is from Paglas or Philadelphia, Nueva Ecija or New York. It is time for us to move beyond our comfort zones. Everyone can be an instrument of peace and development; and
  3. There can be no development without peace. Peace cannot be bought with the barrel of a gun. It takes a combination of political will, social entrepreneurship, respect for diverse cultures and a commitment to peace and development to engender lasting peace in a conflict area.

During the open forum, a community member asked the main purpose of Datu Paglas’s trip to New York. Datu Paglas replied that he came upon the invitation of the Philippine Consul General and that his trip was both an information campaign and a continuation of his efforts to encourage Filipinos to help in the economic development not just of Datu Paglas town but the whole of Muslim Mindanao. Consul General Rebong added that the Datu Paglas presentation was part of the Consulate General’s program to help raise awareness about our Muslim brothers.

Another member of the community thanked Datu Paglas for sharing his experience and commended him for having the courage and vision to introduce reforms that have transformed his town into a bustling economic zone. Still another community member expressed the hope that the experience of Datu Paglas town can be replicated in other areas in Muslim Mindanao.

Consul General Rebong said, “the story of Datu Paglas is very inspiring and can truly serve as a model for peace and development in other areas in Muslim Mindanao.”

The Philippine Consulate General in New York presented the event in collaboration with the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA) - New York Chapter, with the support of Western Union, RTA Travel and Metrobank-New York. END